OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – More than 35,000 Oakland Unified School District students returned to classrooms Monday after 16 months of distance learning, sporting backpacks and masks.

There was that first day of school excitement and also nervous energy. For some Oakland families they were torn whether or not to send their kids to school because of COVID-19 health concerns.

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One Oakland Unified student told KPIX 5 said she had back to school jitters. “Yes, it was my first time at middle school,” he said.

His mother said, “I was extremely nervous mostly because of what’s going on in the community as far as COVID is concerned.”

Keiyana Kemp, another Oakland Unified parent, told KPIX 5, “Up until this morning we weren’t sure if we were going to let them come back. We weren’t sure if it was gonna be distance learning.”

“We almost didn’t let them go,” said Oakland parent Cel Butler.

When asked what changed his mind, he told KPIX 5, “Our 14-year-old daughter was kind of adamant and we thought about it. And I said, ‘Let’s let them go today and see what happens.'”

Butler said his kids would return to in-person school on Tuesday.

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First day of school in the Oakland Unified School District, August 9, 2021. (CBS)

First day of school in the Oakland Unified School District, August 9, 2021. (CBS)

On Monday, state and district leaders toured schools, welcoming students back.

“Definitely difficulties and challenges ahead, but opportunities for learning for our students,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

But not everyone returned. More than 600 students remained at home distance learning under an independent learning program.

Lakisha Young with the nonprofit Oakland REACH said, “With the delta variant it has put a lot more families on the fence. So going into this first day of school we have double the number students who right now are wanting to do distance learning.”

During the pandemic the nonprofit has offered support to many students and families.

City officials also made this commitment Monday.

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“Every single student that has a need we be continuing to have a computer and also internet access in their home,” said David Silver, Director of Education for Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Juliette Goodrich